Chocolate Cake


Finished photoA chocolate cake to die for is the only thing you can say about these deep, dark, delicious layers waiting for myriad fillings and finishes. These chocolate cake layers start moist and stay moist for days making them ideal whether you are producing one cake or 20 cakes.

I can’t remember how long ago I found the original recipe in a Good Housekeeping magazine.  Rose Levy Beranbaum was commissioned to make a celebration cake for the magazine and it was all chocolate (what else do you celebrate with?).   It was around the time I was first starting my bakery, Truffes.  When I first started I thought that every cake had to be made with butter  because I was upscale.  Big mistake!  What I actually found was that cakes made with butter have a shorter life span and stale quicker than cakes made with oil.  Since I was selling to restaurants and hotels which need a longer shelf life than caterers (to whom I also sold) a longer shelf life was necessary.  As much as you want to believe all of your hard work and deliciousness is selling out immediately, it generally isn’t – unless it’s a catered event.  So of ultimate importance is shelf life.

Oil in a cake insures a moist outcome.  Think carrot cake, quick breads and items you may have made that retain their moistness and flavor for days.  Additional ingredients that assist in longevity are buttermilk and sour cream.  Roses’ original recipe used buttermilk and we used it that way for years.  The only thing I didn’t like about this chocolate cake was that it was a cake that crumbed a lot which could make it difficult to finish and cut.  It definitely needed to be undercoated to insure a good finish.  However, the taste and texture, as well as its shelf life made it our base chocolate cake – the go to  chocolate cake.

A simple change in one ingredient in the cake helped with the crumb problem.  I changed the buttermilk to sour cream and in doing so firmed up the texture of the cake somewhat while keeping all the best things about the original chocolate cake.

It is very important to mix on low the entire time and add the ingredients in the order listed. This will keep the cake tender and the layers perfectly flat when baked.  We once had a problem at the bakery where we used this chocolate cake in varying heights from two to four layers.  We made a batch and they all came out having risen in the centers.  If you have been reading my blog for a while you know how to prevent humpy layers.  We prepared the pans as usual, but no matter what we did the results were not flat layers.    What I finally realized is the baker changed the speed of the mixer and was mixing much too fast.  By changing the directions to specify mixing on low, we never again had a problem.

I have included the weights and baking times for 2, 3 and 4 layers as well as cupcakes.

Next week, we’ll be making the Espresso Fudge Cake using this chocolate cake.  Believe me, you won’t want to miss this one!

Chocolate Cake Base LayersIngredients1 cup hot water
2 1/2 teaspoons instant coffee
2 cups sugar (400 grams or 14 ounces)
1 3/4 cup sifted all purpose flour (245 grams or 8 1/2 ounces)
1 cup dutched cocoa (85 grams or 3 ounces)
1 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream (225 grams or 8 ounces)
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the center only of the desired number of  round pans.  Line the pans with parchment rounds and spray the centers only with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, place the water Water in bowland coffee;Coffee in water whisk to mix and dissolve the coffee. Coffee and water whiskedAdd the sugar Sugar inand whisk just until incorporated. It will become very syrupy.Sugar whisked in

Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.Dry ingredientsDry ingredients whisked Add to the coffee mixture and using a paddle attachment mix on low to incorporate – about 2 minutes.Dry ingredients mixing It will be very thick. Add the oil, mixing on low, oil innext add the sour cream Sour cream inand then the eggs and vanilla each time mixing completely – about 30 second each.eggs and vanilla togethereggs and vanilla in batterBatter mixed

Divide the batter between the pans (see weights below).Scaling

Level the batter in the pans.Leveling the layersBake for the times listed or until they spring back when lightly touched or a cake tester comes out clean.Four baked layersYield: 1320 grams or about 46 ounces.

2 – 9×2 inch layers equals 670 grams or 23 1/2 ounces each. Bake for about 28 to 33 minutes. Baked layers are about 1 inch tall.

3 – 9×2 inch layers equals 440 grams or 15 1/3 ounces each.   Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes. Baked layers are about 2/3 inch tall.

4 – 9×2 inch layers equals 330 grams or 11 1/2 ounces each. Bake for 11 to 13 minutes. Baked layers are about 1/2 inch tall.

18 normal size cupcakes about 3/4 full 18 to 22 minutes.

For 6” cake layers that are thin use 150 grams per pan. Makes 4 pans. Good when filling with whipped cream, etc.

Pastry has not only been my profession, but my passion. If there is anything in particular you would like to see or any questions about baking or pastry, please let me know. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss a post!
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24 thoughts on “Chocolate Cake

  1. Manisha

    Hi Helen,

    I tried this recipe and it turned out fabulous. As we do not get sour cream easily in my country so I used hung curd (hung for 24 hours) 190 grams and 25% fat cream 35 grams. The cake had some cracks but not the deep ones. Could it be because of the hung curd?

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Manisha: I am sure it was the change. Instead of hung curd use 1 cup milk. Remove 1 tablespoon of the milk and substitute 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice. This will probably curdle the milk but that is fine. The other thing you can do is use buttermilk if that is available. This should fix the cracking.

  2. Carole Venecourt

    Hello Helen. Thank you so much for this recipe. I was in a hurry and made the cake using my Magimix. All the wet ingredients in order, and then the sifted dry ingredients, just till mixed. Poured into 2 spheres (for a ball) and baked! Fabulous! Carole Venecourt from New Zealand.

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Carole: Thanks to you for letting me know. Love when I hear the recipes are working for others – especially in other countries. I know the ingredients are not always to the same so always happy to hear.

  3. Jamie

    Can I substitute canola oil for vegetable oil for this recipe as well as others that call for vegetable oil. What is the difference?

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Jamie: You absolutely can. In fact I used it in this recipe. It is my oil of choice. I use it in cooking and baking.

      Canola oil is made from the .rapeseed, a yellow plant that’s a member of the mustard/cabbage family. It was developed in Canada and is a made up word. Becaause it was perfected in Canada and the seeds are mainly from Canada the word stands for CANada Oil Low Acid=Canola. It’s main difference it is lower in saturated fat and contains omega nutrients.

  4. Mary Thompson

    Do you usually bake your layers 1″ high? Where I work the layesr are always 2″ so the cake turns out to be 4″ high. Do you do this so it is not necessary to torte your layers?

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Mary: The height of the layers depends upon the cake we were making. At the bottom of the recipe I give the number of layers, the amount of batter, the baking time and how high the the layers are when baked.

      I never sliced the layers for the reason no matter how we tried they never looked as even as when baked in the number of layers needed. I also found it much faster not to torte the layers. Many of our cakes were three or four layers. Check out some of the other cakes in the blog and you will see I like multiple layers.

  5. susan abraham

    Hi Helen, Thank you for the recipe. I am a home baker with basic knowledge. My doubt is is there any advantage of using oil cake insead of butter cake. I mean other than the cost but the flavour is so good for butter cake. Are we using oil so that the cake is not heavy or when you keep in fridge the cake remains moist. Awaiting to hear from you.

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Susan – As I mention in the text, butter cakes stale much quicker than cakes with oil. Also the advantage of oil is that it allows the flavor, chocolate, almond as in white chiffon, lemon or orange in those chiffons to really come through without being masked by butter which imparts its own flavor. Also, butter usually yields a heavier cake. We used butter in some of our wedding and speciality cakes. My yellow cake ( uses butter.

      I use whatever will give me the end result I am looking for. Of all the chocolate cakes I have made in my life both personally and professionally, I have never tasted one as good as this. The taste and texture are dependent upon the recipe. I think if you try this cake or any good chiffon cake you will be surprised at the texture, flavor and moistness. The Orange Cranberry Cake ( uses an orange chiffon. And in the end it comes down to the recipe. I have tasted some great butter or oil based cakes and some really bad ones.

      Also, depending upon the filling, I don’t recommend storing cakes in the refrigerator as it tends to stale breads and cakes.

      Hope this helps.

  6. manisha

    Hi Helen,

    Thanx for this lovely recipe…I was looking for a go-to chocolate cake recipe. I think I have found one…may use it to create birhday cake for hubby’s birthday this month.

    One question, can I scale this recipe? If yes, upto how much? I was thinking of trippling it.

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Manisha: We used this recipe for huge wedding cakes with no change in the basic recipe. You can scale it up in direct proportion meaning with no changes. Remember to mix on low at all points. You don’t want air in the batter. Happy Birthday to Arind.

  7. Mari gold

    I have tried to pin this recipe but can not. I can’t find it on your site, I did find your other chocolate cakes, but not this one. Thanks

  8. Kim

    I just organizing my dessert recipes and threw out one that created a dense dry cake. Maybe it wasn’t the recipe but the baker! I have one question. Do any of the local (st. louis) grocery chains carry dutch processed cocoa?

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Kim: I’m not sure if they do. Hershey’s has a Dark Cocoa that is a blend. Guittard may have one – it is in the grocery stores. Certainly, Kitchen Conservatory as well as other kitchen stores that sell ingredients should stock it. I use Cocoa Barry dutched cocoa at Tony’s and buy it for my personal use. Good question and I will do some research. Also, will do a post on the differences between the two kinds. I would think Guittard, which is on grocery shelves, would have a ditched cocoa.

      This recipe is a bit confusing since it uses sour cream (acidic) and ditched cocoa (no acid) so there is an equal portion of baking soda and baking powder.

      Not sure this helps but thanks for reminding me we need a cocoa tutorial.

  9. Vicki Bensinger

    Thank you for sharing this useful information Helen. Two questions is the cocoa powder unsweetened and when you say hot water, do you have a temperature in mind or just hot not warm to the touch?

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Vicki: The cocoa is unsweetened. I have never used sweetened cocoa in a cake recipe and have not seen a cake recipe using it. Also the water is just hot water from the tap. Basically, you are using it to dissolve the coffee and sugar. I think the original may have called for boiling water and I changed it to hot water since we made this in huge amounts and boiling that much water and getting it to the mixer was not a safe idea. This is how we used it at the bakery and it worked just fine. Hope this helps.

      1. Kim

        Thanks Helen. I’ll keep watching for it. I know it makes a difference in baked goods. Looking forward to your tutorial.

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